West Bromwich Albion 3 - Arsenal 1
Well this was chalk and cheese compared to the Palace and Everton performances. Arsenal were as bad as I have ever seen them - leaderless and rudderless but it should take nothing away from our performance. And it has to be said that Pulis got his tactics absolutely spot on - he brutally exposed Arsenal's weaknesses. Given we had Phillips and Mozza out (2 of our best players in our best points yielding run), it was even was an even more impressive showing.
Our obvious strength to Arsenal's weakness was set plays - they were hopeless at them and ours were targeted at breaching a zonal system. But I thought the genius in our approach was to exploit the gaps between Arsenal's high full backs and centre backs - this meant that even in open play we got in via these areas 4 or 5 times. time and again, often without even looking we hit the same curved pass - Brunt was clearly in the side to do this and if he hit only 20 passes all game, 5 of them must have created clear goal scoring opportunities such is his quality on the ball. We didn't miss Phillips or Mozza as a result and this was a big difference compared to Everton.
We started well and could have been a few goals up at half time - Nyom did brilliantly on a break run but went to pieces when composure would have meant a tap-in for Rondon; Rondon was unlucky with a shot across goal in that same gully between full back and centre back that McClean had exposed on the opposite side in the shot that led to our goal and even Fletcher forced a fine save from Cech from the same area. Rondon, Chaldi, McClean and Fletcher went and pressed every goal kick high up the pitch and we forced them long.
We were good value for the lead and it was only through Chadli switching off that we conceded - we deserved to be ahead at half time.
2nd half we benefitted from Cech's injury, Sanchez;s withdrawl and the fortune of the crossbar (those small margins again) but although I thought Pulis had changed Rondon too early, HRK produced a very intelligent cameo, scored the kind of gimme Rondon has been desperate for and might have had more than our 3.
To beat a team with such resources you need fortune, 100% from every player and the majority of your players at a very high level. We got that - it would be lovely if we could produce the same positive and aggressive style in an away game.
A brilliant bounceback after the two poor defeats. Not a lot to add to Brendan's comprehensive analysis, except to reiterate what a fine margin there is between success and failure in the Prem. Average teams playing at 100% will beat top teams playing at 90% more often than not. Arsenal clearly have a lot of distractions and kudos to Pulis and the lads for taking advantage. Any top six teams not taking a serious look at Evans and Dawson must be nuts. That is a worry.
Albion demonstrated once again what a useless statistic possession is. I would like to see "efficiency" or "chances converted" reported. Albion must be near the top of the efficiency stats.
If Wenger had taken a look at the 'Sacked in the morning' history before the game he must surely have been quaking in his boots (hush puppies). Can we expect an addition to this spooky coincidence? Finally, glad to see the FA have taken heed of my previous rants and decided to experiment with video review in the FA cup next year. I will forego any monetary compensation. A written acknowledgement in their annual report will suffice.
Albion in top-seventh heaven
I waited a day or two to submit this report, thinking that the curse of losing to the Albion might claim it's highest profile casualty yet but it appears as though Arsene Wenger is built of sterner stuff, even if his current side aren't.
Albion made two personnel changes to the 451 of their team for the top seven sides, Brunt coming in for Yacob in the middle three, presumably to offer some forward passing, with Rondon returning for HRK "up top".
Nyom made a great run around the five minute mark though, having got beyond the Arsenal backline and having "two to choose from" in the box, picked the wrong pass. I initially thought this had spurred the Albion into all out attack but a closer examination of the "as live" coverage suggested that BeIN had cut out the 5 minutes after Nyom's run and resumed coverage as Brunt slid in McClean down Arsenal's right, but despite also having "two to choose from", he went for the strike from a very narrow angle and merely forced a corner. I say merely there but had McClean pulled the ball across the box, would it have represented a better goal-scoring chance than the set-piece he did gain? We will never know that but what we do know is that Albion are good from set pieces, and this was converted, by Dawson, who used the space between the penalty spot and an area some three yards out from the goal-line to build up more than enough steam to power his header past Koscielny and Cech.
Two minutes later though, Dawson would follow a runner inside which left Sanchez, Arsenal's best, and therefore most fouled, player by a long stretch, way too much space, and when a pinpoint cross landed at the Chilean's feet, he had time to step past a recovering Dawson and fire home past two more Albion defenders trying to get across, and past Foster into the roof of the net.
On the half-hour, Albion managed to counter attack into Arsenal's half, although Rondon, well ahead of the chasing Albion pack, if not quite getting free of the Arsenal one, had little option but to shoot from a narrow angle and see the ball go across and wide.
Two minutes later and Foster pulled off a fine save after Chadli's first touch allowed Sanchez to nip in before he could take a second and then play in Ramsey on the Albion right who went past MacAuley and got off a strike from as narrow an angle as Rondon's but which was heading for the far side's netting until Foster dived across and down to palm it away, although that sparked a little melee inside the six-yard-box which Nyom eventually got to safety after the second rebound.
One minute later and Fletcher pulled an even better save out of Cech, after Livermore played him down the side of Arsenal's centre-backs and the Albion skipper hit a full-bloodied drive that the keeper had to go airborne sideways to push away, though that save would be his last part in the proceeding as, on 35-minutes, he would pull a hamstring and hobble off, though luckily for Arsenal, Sanchez, having been taken out, ankle high, by McClean's 15-yard run-up and lunge, would stay on the pitch for a while longer.
Five minutes into the second half, Albion broke upfield again and Brunt delivered a lovely cross that Rondon couldn't quite get enough goalwards direction on, although it would have been hard on him had his substitution, five minutes later, been down to that miss being the final straw, given all the usual effort he'd put in. As it was, he went straight down the tunnel as HRK came on, suggesting that he'd picked up a knock.
As to whether Rondon would have been in the same position as HRK a minute later and so ended his twelve game drought with a similar neat tap-in to the one that brought HRK his first Hawthorn's goal, we'll never know, nor do we know if he'd got far enough down to the tunnel to see McClean dribble, Sanchez-like, across the edge of the box from the left and then attempt to play an aerial one-two over the Arsenal back-line only to see Ospina, who had replaced Cech, fail to deal with the ball and deflect it to HRK right on the penalty spot, from where his toe poke took it past two Arsenal defenders and, most importantly, McClean, who had the presence of mind to leave it well alone and so avoid interfering with play.
During the period in which both managers made game-saving tactical substitutions, Arsenal threw on Giroud but it wasn't their big man who hit the bar from a set-piece around 65-minutes, whilst Brunt had been creative enough, for long enough, to be replaced by Yacob around at 70.
Four minutes after Brunt had left the field, McClean would assume his role as the deliverer of right-side set pieces and tee up Dawson for an almost (Matt?) carbon-copy of his opening goal, which given Albion's defensive display up till that point, looked sure to be the closing goal as well, and so it proved, with Arsenal not really creating much, if anything that suggested they'd claw back a point.
In extra-time, Field on a token sub, for the right-sided Chadli in this game, would get an opportunity to show that, when given the chance to try and extend a two-goal lead or head for the corner, he's watched all of the Megson-era videos, bar the Dyer at Sunderland one, and so knows exactly what's required of him in such a situation, and ensured that Albion got their first win of the season against a top-seven side, even though the win sees them remain in eighth.
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